EU Commission says concerned for electoral process in Turkey

- Adds Turkish reaction, paragraphs four and five

The decision of Turkey’s Supreme Election Council’s (YSK) to order a rerun of the election for mayor of Istanbul and to allow second-placed candidates to become mayors in the mainly Kurdish southeast is a source of serious concerns about the legality and integrity of the electoral process, the European Union Commission said in its annual report on Turkey on Wednesday.

The EU Commission annual reports evaluate Turkey’s harmonisation with the EU’s democratic standards and progress towards fulfilling the requirements for membership.

“Turkey’s accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill, no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing and no further work towards the modernisation of the Customs Union can be currently foreseen,” the commission said in reference to Turkey’s bid for membership of the EU. 

Turkey rejected the report.

“It is impossible for us to accept the unfair and disproportional criticism in the report,” Deputy Minister Faruk Kaymakçı told a press conference. “The report contains some inconsistent and invalid comments that say Turkey is drifting away from the European Union and European values.”

Turkey is a part of Europe, he said, but its full membership to the European Union has been prevented for political reasons.

The EU’s top executive body said the presidential and parliamentary elections in June 2018 and local polls in March 2019 were both marked by strong turnouts, but contestants had to compete in an unequal environment. 

Following local polls, the YSK declared four elected mayors and members of municipal councils elected from the predominantly Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) ineligible to assume office for being dismissed from their public sector jobs during the two-year emergency rule declared following a 2016 coup attempt. The YSK instead appointed the second-placed candidates, all from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In Istanbul, the opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu was declared winner of the mayoral race by a narrow margin, but on May 6, the YSK annulled the result and scheduled a rerun on June 23, after an appeal by the AKP that cited severe irregularities.

According to the EU Commission, the decisions “are a source of serious concern regarding the respect of the legality and integrity of the electoral process and the institution’s independence from political pressure.”

“They go against the core aim of a democratic electoral process – that is to ensure that the will of the people prevails,” it said. 

Turkey’s new executive presidential system, that fully entered into force after June 2018 elections, has removed many of the checks and balances that existed previously, and has weakened the role of parliament, the commission said. 

Human rights, the rule of law and independence of the judiciary continued to deteriorate in Turkey, the commission said.